University of Kentucky | History and definition of the University of Kentucky | University of Kentucky Logo

The University of Kentucky, also known as UK, is a public co-educational university and is one of the state's two land-grant universities, located in Lexington, Kentucky. Founded in 1865 by John Bowman as the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky, the university is the largest in the Commonwealth of Kentucky by enrollment, with 27,171 students, and is also the highest ranked research university in the state, according to U.S. News and World Report.

The university is home to 16 colleges, a graduate school, 93 undergraduate programs, 99 master programs, 66 doctoral programs, and four professional programs. The University of Kentucky has fifteen libraries on campus. The largest is William T. Young Library, a federal depository, hosting subjects related to social sciences, humanities and life sciences collections.

In recent years, the university has focused expenditures increasingly on research, following a compact formed by the Kentucky General Assembly in 1997. The directive mandated that the university become a Top 20 public research institution, in terms of an overall ranking to be determined by the university itself, by the year 2020.

John Bryan Bowman founded the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky (A&M), a publicly chartered department of Kentucky University, after receiving federal support through the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act in 1865. Courses were offered at Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate. Three years later, James Kennedy Patterson became the first president of the land-grant university and the first degree was awarded. In 1876, the university began to offer Master's degree programs. Two years later, A&M separated from Kentucky University, which is now Transylvania University. For the new school, Lexington donated a 52 acre (210,000 m²) park and fair ground, which became the core of UK's present campus. A&M was initially a male-only institution, but began to admit women in 1880.

In 1882, the official colors of the university, royal blue and white, were adopted. An earlier color set, blue and light yellow, was adopted earlier at a Kentucky-Centre College football game on December 19, 1891. The particular hue of blue was determined from a necktie, which was used to demonstrate the color of royal blue.

On February 15, 1882, Administration Building was the first building of three completed on the present campus.

Three years later, the college expanded with the formation of the Agricultural Experiment Station, which provided research results to farmers throughout the state, addressing issues relating to agribusiness, food processing, nutrition, water and soil resources and the environment. This was followed up by the creation of the university's Agricultural Extension service in 1910, which was one of the first in the United States. The extension service became a mode of the federally mandated programs that were required beginning in 1914.

The school's first women's dormitory, Patterson Hall, was constructed in 1904. Residents had to cross a swampy depression, where the student center now stands, to reach central campus. Four years later, the school's name was changed to the "State University, Lexington, Kentucky" upon reaching university status, and then to the "University of Kentucky" in 1916.

In 1912, the University of Kentucky's graduate school opened, offering bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees relating to Master of arts, Master of Science, Civil Engineer, Mechanical Engineer, Mining Engineer and Doctor of Philosophy, followed by the founding of the College of Commerce in 1925, known today as the Gatton College of Business and Economics.

In 1924, Memorial Hall was completed, dedicated to the 2,756 Kentuckians who died in World War I. This was followed up by the new King Library, which opened in 1931 and was named for a long-time library director, Margaret I. King.

The university became racially integrated in 1949 when Lyman T. Johnson, an African American, won a lawsuit to be admitted to the graduate program.

Ground was broken for the Albert B. Chandler Hospital in 1955, when Governor of Kentucky A. B. "Happy" Chandler recommended that the Kentucky General Assembly appropriate $5 million for the creation of the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and a medical center at the university. This was completed after a series of studies were conducted that highlighted the health needs of the citizens, as well as the need to train more physicians for the state. Five years later, the College of Medicine and College of Nursing opened, followed by the College of Dentistry in 1962.

Authorized by the Kentucky General Assembly and signed by Governor Bert Combs on March 6, 1962, a mandate was placed upon the University of Kentucky to form a community college system. Two years later, the Board of Trustees implements the legislation and established the Community College System, creating centers in Covington, Ashland, Fort Knox, Cumberland, Henderson and Elizabethtown. In 1969, the Patterson Office Tower was completed, currently the tallest building on campus.

In May 1970, students at the university began protesting the shootings at Kent State University. In response, Governor Louie Nunn deferred to the National Guard in an attempt to disperse the protesters. An outdated ROTC building was destroyed by fire. The Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Libraries has 13 oral history interviews with participants in the protests, university officials as well as former governor Nunn. Nine years later, the Singletary Center for the Arts opened, named in honor of former university president Otis Singletary.

In 1979, the University of Kentucky hosted the first Kentucky Women Writers Conference, which is now the longest-running conference of its kind. The Kentucky Women Writers Conference is now in its 31st year.

In 1997, the Kentucky General Assembly reorganized the community college system, withdrawing the university's jurisdiction from all but the Lexington Community College. The other colleges were merged with the Kentucky Technical College system and were placed under a separate board of control.

On April 3, 1998, numerous neighborhood homes were demolished and neighbors forced to leave their homes to make way for the William T. Young Library, which was the largest university project at the time of completion. The six-level William T. Young Library was constructed on south campus and the largest book endowment among all public university libraries in the country. Nine-years later, on April 13, 2007, an entire city block of neighborhood homes were demolished and ground was broken for the Biological Pharmaceutical Complex Building, the largest planned academic building in the state of Kentucky, and one of the largest in the United States. The Biological Pharmaceutical Complex Building complements the adjacent Biomedical Biological Science Research Building, and is expected to be part of the new university research campus. Other recent announcements include the construction of the new $450 million Albert B. Chandler Hospital, which will be one of the largest projects in the state's history in terms of size and economic impact.


On January 12, 2007, the university's "Domestic Partner Benefits Committee" unanimously voted recommending domestic partner benefits, such as health insurance and employee education benefits, to homosexual couples and unmarried heterosexual couples to help enhance the university's competitiveness in attracting top faculty and staff, part of the "Top 20" plan. The program stemmed from a work-life survey of university employees in 2005 and 2006, and led to several proposals to improve employee conditions that would affect 13,600 employees, of which 68 are same-sex partners, and 272 opposite-sex partners. The estimated cost of the original domestic partner benefits program would be $633,000 annually, less than 1% of the university's $68.2 million annual health care budget; 40% of which would be paid from the university's undesignated general funds, with the remainder coming from various grants, contracts, athletics, and hospital revenues.

The measure was supported by the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, but opposed by the Family Trust Foundation and The Family Foundation of Kentucky. The measure was also opposed by state House Republican Stan Lee, who filed a bill to ban domestic partner coverage at Kentucky's public universities, and by state Senate Republican Vernie McGaha, who sponsored Senate Bill 152 to ban state and local governments, public and private colleges, and some quasi-government institutions from offering domestic partner benefits. Both bills were never passed.

University President Lee T. Todd, Jr. endorsed the benefits proposal on April 24, 2007. The original proposal was slated to go into effect on July 1 with the university being only the second public college in the state to offer such benefits. Kentucky Attorney General Greg Stumbo stated on June 1, 2007, however, that the benefits package violated the constitutional definition of marriage.

On June 18, the "Sponsored Benefits Plan", an amended plan that eliminates the conflict with the definition of marriage in the Kentucky Constitution, took effect on July 1. The revised plan uses no state appropriated funds.

Lexington Herald-Leader articles on December 10, 2008 and February 10, 2009 discussed the controversy over the proposal that the entire UK campus would be made tobacco free. Following a failed attempt by the UK Task Force to extend the ban to public sidewalks, the campus wide ban was implemented November 19, 2009 with no enforcement.

The University of Kentucky is home to numerous notable structures, such as Main Building, a four-story administration building dating to 1882, which was gutted by fire on May 15, 2001. The cause of the blaze was attributed to a welders torch during repairs to the building's roof. Total costs for reconstruction after the fire exceeded $17 million. The Patterson Office Tower is the tallest building on campus. The university is also home to several major construction projects, including the new Albert B. Chandler Hospital and the Biological Pharmaceutical Complex Building, which will be the largest academic building in the state.

The University of Kentucky once operated 14 community colleges with more than 100 extended sites, centers and campuses under the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, but relinquished control under the Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997. The network of community colleges is now known as the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS). Adjoining Lexington Community College, despite the reorganization of the community colleges, remained integrated with the university, but separated from the University of Kentucky in 2004 and became a part of KCTCS.

The College of Engineering currently operates a satellite campus in Paducah, located on the campus of West Kentucky Community and Technical College.

The university is home to 15 campus libraries. Among them is the William T. Young Library, which houses the university's social sciences, humanities and life sciences collections; the library also acts as a federal depository and a public library for the Commonwealth of Kentucky:
  1. Agricultural Information Center
  2. Chemistry-Physics Library
  3. Design Library
  4. Distance Learning Library Services
  5. Education Library
  6. Law Library
  7. Library Link at the Patterson Office Tower
  8. Lucille Caudill Little Fine Arts Library and Learning Center
  9. Medical Center Library
  10. Science Library (Merger of the Chemistry/Physics Library, the Mathematical Sciences Library, and the Geological Sciences Library and Map Collection)
  11. Shaver Engineering Library
  12. Special Collections and Digital Programs
  13. William T. Young Library
  1. College of Agriculture
  2. Human and Environmental Sciences
  3. College of Arts and Sciences
  4. College of Business and Economics
  5. College of Communications & Information Studies
  6. College of Dentistry
  7. College of Design
  8. College of Education
  9. College of Engineering
  10. College of Fine Arts
  11. College of Health Sciences
  12. College of Law
  13. College of Medicine
  14. College of Nursing
  15. College of Pharmacy
  16. College of Public Health
  17. College of Social Work
  18. The Graduate School
  19. Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce
  20. Martin School of Public Policy and Administration
Beginning in the 1890s, students at the A&M scheduled football games with neighboring colleges. In 1902, the women's basketball program began on campus, and the men's team was added one year later. The "Wildcats" became associated with the university shortly after a football victory over Illinois on October 9, 1909. The then-chief of the military department, Commandant Carbuiser, stated that the team had "fought like wildcats." The slogan was later adopted by the university, and a costumed mascot debuted in 1976.

In 1930, then-high school coach Adolph Rupp was hired as a basketball coach for the university. He had a career that would span 42 years until 1972. During his tenure, he led the Wildcats to four NCAA championships in 1948, 1949, 1951 and 1958. The Wildcats later won a fifth championship under Joe B. Hall in 1978, another in 1996 under Rick Pitino and its last under Orlando "Tubby" Smith in 1998. In 2007, the University of Kentucky named Billy Gillispie as the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats men's basketball team. On March 30, 2009, the University of Kentucky named John Calipari as the head coach of the men's basketball team.

On December 21, 2009, the men's basketball team reached another milestone, becoming the first college basketball team to reach 2000 all time wins. The 2000th win was an 88–44 victory over the Drexel University Dragons. Kentucky was also the first school to reach the 1000 all time wins, which they accomplished in 1969.

The university boasts of numerous national championships, with its latest coming in 2011 by its coeducational rifle team. In addition to its seven NCAA titles in basketball, UK also boasts of a cross country national team championship (women's, 1988), eight individual championships in gymnastics, an Olympic medalist in track and field, and 18 national championships in cheerleading.. After defeating number-one ranked Oklahoma 13-7 in the Sugar Bowl under legendary coach Bear Bryant, Kentucky is also an NCAA-recognized co-national champion for the 1950 season.

Other athletic programs sponsored at the varsity level include baseball, men's and women's basketball, men's and women's cross country running, football, men's and women's golf, women's gymnastics, the coeducational sport of rifle, men's and women's soccer, women's softball, men's and women's swimming and diving, men's and women's tennis, men's and women's track and field and women's volleyball. The school also has a popular club-level men's ice hockey team.

The University of Kentucky football coach is Joker Phillips, named the successor to Rich Brooks, making him the first African American football coach in Kentucky's history. In his first season he led the Kentucky Wildcats to a disappointing 6-7 season and an appearance to the BBVA Compass Bowl. Phillips was named the head coach in waiting, should Brooks retire (which he did, on January 4, 2010). Brooks led the Wildcats to four straight bowl games, three of four resulting in victories. Brooks' first three bowl appearances were all wins, a first in the school's history. Wins in the Music City Bowl in 2006 and 2007 were followed by victory in the 2009 Liberty Bowl (at the end of the 2008 season). The only other Wildcats coach to lead the team to three consecutive bowl appearances was Bear Bryant in the 1949–1951 seasons, respectively the Orange Bowl (loss), Sugar Bowl (win) and Cotton Bowl Classic (win).

The University of Kentucky is currently served by two independent FM stations. The first, 91.3 FM WUKY, is an Triple-A station and was the first university-owned FM radio station in the United States and Kentucky's first public radio station. The operations started on October 17, 1940 as WBKY out of Beattyville, although the station moved five years later to Lexington.

The Electrical and Computer Engineering Department was the home of one of the earliest college amateur radio stations in the United States, beginning with W4JP that began continuous operation prior to World War I. The station broadcasted until amateur radio licenses were granted by the US Government. In 1971, the station was one of the first to carry NPR's "All Things Considered" and helped debut National Public Radio, changing its call letters to WUKY in 1989 to better reflect its affiliation with the university. In 2007, it became the first Lexington radio station to broadcast in high-definition digital radio.

The second is 88.1 FM WRFL which has been in operation since 1988. WRFL is operated by students and broadcasts live 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and features music that is spread across most genres.

The campus is also served by the Kentucky Kernel, a student-run, financially independent daily newspaper, with the first issue published in 1915. The official yearbook of the University of Kentucky is the Kentuckian, first published in 1906. The Kentuckian was preceded by at least one previous book, the Echo.

The university has over 140,246 alumni in the state of Kentucky, 216,737 in the United States, and 1,119 internationally. The University of Kentucky Alumni Association is the primary affiliation for former students and faculty, and is located at the corner of Rose Street and Euclid Avenue. The building, dedicated in 1963, is named for Helen G. King, the first permanent director of the association and was former "Miss University of Kentucky." The association also meets at Spindletop Hall, a large mansion along Iron Works Pike, which serves as a central alumni gathering point.

The University of Kentucky boasts seven governors, including current Governor of Kentucky Steve Beshear, former Governor of Ohio Ted Strickland, current Governor of North Carolina Beverly Perdue, and former governors Ernie Fletcher, Paul E. Patton and Tom Jefferson Terral, and former governor, U.S. Senator and Commissioner of Major League Baseball Albert "Happy" Chandler. It also claims Ken Lucas, a former U.S. representative from the commonwealth's fourth congressional district, United Methodist Bishop Alfred W. Gwinn, current U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, Carol Gatton, an automobile dealer executive and donor of the largest gift ever to the university, and Paul Chellgren, Chairman and CEO of Ashland Inc.. The university was also the home of Dr. Thomas Hunt Morgan, a scientist and winner of the 1933 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and William Lipscomb, 1976 winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.